A major U.S. insurance company is planning to increase life insurance premiums for its customers who vape. The move by Prudential will bring rates for customers who use e-cigarettes into alignment with those charged smokers, the company said in a statement on Thursday.

“Prudential will reclassify users of e-cigarettes to treat them as smokers and in line with our cigarette smoking guidelines,” a company spokesman said. “Smokers typically will have higher-priced policies.”

The change will go into effect for customers applying for individual life insurance policies. Smokers typically pay about 50% more per year than nonsmokers, according to quotes from online insurance sites. The difference could add up to an additional $350 to $800 per year, depending on the health of the applicant and other factors.

The move by Prudential, a Fortune 500 company that provides insurance and other financial services in more than 40 countries, comes in the midst of the ongoing bout of serious lung injuries that have been linked to the use of e-cigarettes and other vaping devices. As of this week, at least 1,100 cases of the severe lung illnesses associated with vaping and 23 deaths have been reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Increased attention on vaping over the past few months and linkages to a few deaths and multiple illnesses, have resulted in warnings from the FDA, federal government and some states banning the use of flavored e-cigarettes,” the spokesman said.

Risks of Vaping Unknown

Loretta Worters, the vice president of the Insurance Information Institute, said that the risks of vaping are not yet known.

“There hasn’t been enough statistical data to say whether or not they’re as bad as traditional cigarettes. Let’s not forget that it took 20 or 30 years before that connection was made,” said Worters. 

“Before you pick up that e-cigarette, people should ask themselves, ‘Is it worth the risk?’ “she added.

The federal government and several states have announced that they will ban flavored e-cigarettes while Massachusetts has gone even further, banning all vaping devices.

But Gregory Conley, the president of the American Vaping Association, an industry trade group, said that the rash of lung illnesses is being unfairly attributed to legal nicotine e-cigarettes, leading to headlines critical of the industry.

“They are the result of so many governmental officials spreading misinformation and doubt about nicotine vaping products,” he said. “Those illnesses and deaths are almost exclusively caused by the use of illicit and contaminated THC (marijuana) cartridges.”

Although the lung illnesses have been associated with vaping, the exact cause continues to elude health officials. Many patients who have been treated have reported that they had vaped cannabis, although some have said their use of vaping devices was limited to nicotine products.

Efforts to determine a cause continue, and have so far focused on the use of vitamin E acetate and other additives in vape carts, potential chemical contamination, and the cartridges themselves.

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